Inside Bonner Lab? 1970s

There aren’t a whole lot of pictures of the Bonner Lab, and the ones I do have are almost all of the outside:

I’ve only ever seen a couple images taken inside. The first one provides almost no clue to help understand how the building actually worked. See how unhelpful this is?

There’s a second one, though, clearly taken decades later, that’s more useful. What I’m interested in here is the wall, which looks to have been made of something like cinder blocks:

I note this because I recently came across this picture of long-time Physics Department chairman Jerry Phillips, closer in time to the second photo than to the first, posing in an unfamiliar location. I have no idea what this is but my instinct is that it must be somewhere inside Bonner Lab:


Bonus: It was just like one in Canada!

Extra Bonus: Brockman Hall for Physics, 2023.

Fun Fact: The 1959 machine was actually the third accelerator on campus. The first was a 200,00 volt machine that was built in 1936 under the guidance of the first head of the Physics Department, H.A. Wilson. The second was a 2 million volt Van de Graff accelarator that replaced it in 1939. These machines played an enormous role in the development of graduate studies at Rice. By 1959 Rice had awarded a total of only 261 doctorate degrees and 91 of them were in Physics, largely because of the research done with the accelerators.

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14 Responses to Inside Bonner Lab? 1970s

  1. grungy1973 says:

    My pictures in or on Bonner were during its waning days, as people who wandered in harvested nature’s bounty. Those images are non-digital, and whether they’re prints or slides is lost to memory. They can’t hide forever, and I’ll share them after they surface.

  2. James Medford says:

    Bonner Lab was the only building on campus in which I never set foot during my years at Rice, ’81 – ’85.

  3. I did a quick search in the handy Portal to Texas history, and found two interesting articles about Bonner Lab. The first article, from 1959, has a lot of the same material as the article above. However, it does note where the other two AEC accelerators will be located, Argonne and Oak Ridge.

    The other, from 1994 reviews the history of the building and has a building plan.

  4. William J. Watson says:

    I have a vague recollection that Bonne lab had a wall of lead blocks to help shield the rest of campus from the aftermath of particle collisions. I don’t know if the bricks were entirely lead, just had a substantial amount of lead, or if my impression is completely faulty.

  5. Marc Hairston says:

    I didn’t spend much time in Bonner Lab in the 1970s, but based on what I can remember (and what I knew from the nuclear lab during my grad school time at Duke University later) this was a van de Graff generator that accelerated ionized nuclei (usually carbon I think) and hurled them at a target material to look at the high energy particles it produced. This was reason for all the shielding around the beam column and target (third picture above). No one was allowed inside the shielded area while it was running, but there was no residual radiation after it was turned off. This was a midrange particle accelerator and all the “cool physics” in the 60s through 80s were at the high energy accelerators like SLAC at Stanford and Fermi Lab near Chicago. Poor Bonner Lab was a “Miss Congeniality”.

  6. Clark Trantham PhD says:

    The tall structure on Bonner Lab housed the van de Graff generator which was mounted vertically. By the time I was in Physics in the late 1970’s this type of accelerator was way out of date. As stated by Mark Hairston particle physics research was conducted at Fermi Lab among others by that time. They kept trying to use it for large Hadron production, but I don’t thing funding was ever very good. I suspect the third picture is from that era.

    The fourth picture looks like a charged particle detector which contained many fine wires horizontally and vertically aligned wires which allowed the detector to measure the energy and momentum of the particle.

    The fifth picture with the newspaper clipping is a much smaller van de Graff than the one at Bonner. The Canadian one is horizontal while the Bonner one was vertical and nearly as tall shown in picture one.

  7. almadenmike says:

    On page 6 of the Spring 1997 issue of the Rice Historical Society’s “Cornerstone” publication are two articles that describe the 1984 donations of Rice’s two accelerators to 1) the Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México in Mexico City … the 5.5-megavolt (MV) single-ended CN model, which had been installed in 1950), and 2) to the University of Zagreb (then in Yugoslavia, now the capital of Croatia) … the 12 MV horizontal EN tandem that had been installed in 1961.

    Here is a link to a striking 1952 photo of the tall vertical Van de Graaf column for a Rice accelerator, which due to its date must have been connected to the CN device.

  8. almadenmike says:

    Page 93 of the Sept. 1957 – June 1959 edition of Rice’s GRADUATE ANNOUNCEMENTS publication (which featured the new Bonner Lab on its cover) included this:

    “For research in nuclear physics a new building housing a 6 mev Van de Graaff accelerator was completed in 1953. Other research equipment includes a high-pressure Van de Graaff generator, giving over two million volts, and a Cockcroft and Waton (sic … should be Walton?) voltage doubler, giving two hundred thousand volts. … ”

  9. rusk49 says:

    The second picture above shows Dr. Bonner looking on as Mr. VanderHenst is cleaning the large rubber seal for the huge metal tank which rests on the seal when the Van de Graaff is in operation. I don’t remember the third person in the picture.

  10. Paula Eisenstein Baker says:

    Jerry Phillips? I think you meant Gerry Phillips!

  11. Tom I. Bonner '63 says:

    First picture: The tower and its rectangular base (the right-most foreground building) is the original building which opened in 1953 and housed the vertical Van de Graaff accelerator. The accelerator was housed in a heavy steel pressure tank that was lifted by a crane when maintenance was required and thus the height was roughly twice the height of the accelerator. The tower was basically the attic to the larger base which housed offices on the far side and experimental space on near side. All the rest of the building was added in roughly 1960 when the horizontal tandem Van de Graaff accelerator was installed.

    second picture: Not sure what the equipment is without a broader view but probably the base of the vertical accelerator, the big motor being what drove the charging belt. That would be my father in the background.. No idea who the tall man in the middle is but since he is wearing a tie I doubt he is a graduate student. He is not a faculty member that I recognize so my guess is that he might be a Van de Graaff Company engineer, especially if this dates to the 1953 instillation. The man in the foreground is probably Mr. Van der Henst (or Hentz?), a machinist/glass blower/instrument maker, who was in charge of the physics department shop. I seem to remember identifying him in a previous discussion of possibly the same picture).

    picture 3: the particle (protons, deuterons, possible helium ions) beam of the vertical accelerator came down through the ceiling of the experimental area and was bent to a horizontal path through the pipe extending to the right by the large magnet on the left. The magnet looks like it is on a rotating platform which would allow multiple beam lines. I don’t remember the experimental area to say whether this was before or after the installation of the tandem accelerator. I think the vertical accelerator was used, although possibly not initially, as an injector for the tandem accelerator to boast the energy of the roughly 12 Mev tandem to roughly 18 Mev. The walls are indeed cinder blocks and were essential radiation shielding.

    picture 4: That is certainly Gerry Phillips (Gerald Cleveland Phillips if I remember correctly). The instrument looks to be a detector for ionizing particles probably dating to the period when he was getting into higher energy physics than was possible with the Rice accelerators. In late 1969 or early 1970, while a postdoc at UT Austin, I spent a few days helping Gerry’s group set up an experiment at the SREL synchrotron in Newport News, Virginia. I would guess this photo dates from about that time. When I decided around that time to switch fields to something more biology oriented he guided me to the biophysics group of the Carnegie Institution of Washington, one of the earliest genomics labs long before that term came into use.

    Just like one in Canada: If Nov.12,1959 is the correct date for the newspaper article, the funding was just announced and a building had to be constructed so the tandem accelerator is 1960-1961 not 1959.

    Fun fact: Actually the “1959” tandem accelerator is the fourth accelerator on campus. You have skipped the 5-6 Mev 1953 vertical accelerator.

  12. Tom Bonner "63 says:

    My brother, Robert Bonner ’69, recalls Gerry Phillips showing Robert Gerry’s new multiwire particle detector while he was an undergraduate or around Christmas of 1969. Given that the Wikipedia entry for Wire Chamber contains the following “In 1968, Georges Charpak, while at the European Organization for Nuclear Research (CERN), invented and developed the multi-wire proportional chamber (MWPC). This invention resulted in him winning the Nobel Prize for Physics in 1992. The chamber was an advancement of the earlier bubble chamber rate of detection of only one or two particles every second to 1000 particle detections every second. The MWPC produced electronic signals from particle detection, allowing scientists to examine data via computers.[5][6][7] The multi-wire chamber is a development of the spark chamber.[8]”, it would appear that the detector in photo 3 is that sort of detector and Gerry is proudly showing off one he had built shortly after it had been invented.

  13. Mary Craig Pergande says:

    I was fortunate enough to get to work in the Bonner Lab and run one of the generators around 1975-1976. So long ago that I remember punching cards for the programing to run. Also remember vacuuming out the generator. The building inside was a few offices and then two large rooms for the generators and a second for the receivers of the blasted rays.

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